Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Sit on the fastball, adjust to off-speed pitches. Mix your pitches and keep those hitters off-balance. These are the mantras that are ingrained in the minds of young baseball players from the time they pick up a bat and ball. With this type of mindset imbued upon our malleable young minds, it’s a wonder that we’ve come to associate a successful pitcher with a daunting arsenal of pitches that break every which way.
The allure of a Daisuke Matsuzaka and his infamous 8-pitch arsenal are enough to get the baseball world frothing at the mouth, but as we all found out with Dice-K, a lot of not good is still not good.
On the other side of the coin, there is Drew Hutchison. While calling Hutch a one trick pony would be disingenuous, his pitching style isn’t as conventional as his 3 pitch; fastball/slider/change-up arsenal would have you believe.
What makes Hutch unconventional you ask? It’s the extraordinary regularity with which he throws the most basic pitch in baseball, his fastball. In his (short) Major League career of 64 innings, Hutchison has thrown a fastball 77.2%* of the time.
*As per Fangraphs; including 2-seamers
Over ¾ of the time a batter steps into the box to take a pitch from Drew Hutchison, they know that it is going to be hard, and relatively straight, and yet he has managed to be *EXTREMELY SMALL SAMPLE ALERT* relatively successful.
Can Hutchison actually have success without diversifying his offerings? Is throwing fastball after fastball a sustainable model for success?
Among qualified starts in 2013, there were exactly 4 starting pitchers that managed to throw their fastball more than 70% of the time.
Those 4 pitchers? They averaged 3.175 WAR in 2013 with their high volume fastball approach. While correlation does not necessarily equal causation, it does point towards the ability to have success with a fastball heavy approach.
So how does one find success with a cheddar heavy menu in the Major Leagues? Looking at Hutch’s first start (which again, isn’t much of a sample size, but it’s all we’ve got), we can see that while he’s throwing that heat over and over, he’s not throwing it over and over to the same place
Charts via Brooks Baseball
Hutchison’s ability to hit his spots, and work the entire zone would seemingly have a similar effect to using a larger variety of pitches. Throwing a fastball right on a batters hands followed by a painting the black on the outside corner will keep a batter off balance just as much as throwing in the odd curve ball.
Another key to Hutch’s “I throw fastballs and you can try to hit it” mentality on the mound is his ability to provide variety with that single pitch. Hutchison not only has the ability to change the velocity of his heater (he averaged 92.7MPH, but ranged from 90.2-95.3 MPH for the game), but also has varying amounts of movement on his fastball depending on where he is sitting within that spectrum of velocity.
Is Hutchison’s approach a recipe for sustainable success? The way too early to say anything returns say yes, as does the not nearly large enough sample of pitch data above. So I suppose the answer is a tentative maybe. When Hutchison faces some adversity this season, and a team zones in on his fastball for a game, it will be interesting to see if his approach changes.
While many fans could care less about the process and more about the results produced by their favourite team’s players, for me and many others taking note of oddities such Hutchison is one of the things that makes baseball so great. Watching Hutch’s reliance on throwing one pitch so often, and finding success is fun (at least for me), as tracking if and how his approach changes as he is exposed to more teams and their scouts around the league will be.
You can follow Travis on Twitter @travisb31, where he will occasionally tweet about baseball, but mostly pictures of his adorable dog.